A wrestling match flickered on the screen in the trailer home of Jim Dickinson, the renegade Memphis producer and musician, and his wife, Mary Lindsay. His son, Luther, sat slumped in an armchair.
Once a full-fledged punk-rocker, Luther Dickinson has spent recent years immersed in the Mississippi hill country blues and roots-music scene surrounding his home. At 26, he is among the best guitarists of his generation, having plunged into the deep well of knowledge shared by his neighbors. These include the bluesmen R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough (who died in 1998) and the 92-year-old fife-and-drum musician Othar Turner, one of the oldest living links to the roots of American music. In addition to leading the powerful blues-jam band the North Mississippi All Stars with his 23-year-old brother, Cody, Luther has also been producing new recordings by local legends like Mr. Turner.
''It makes me so happy to see him participating in this North Mississippi music scene,'' Jim Dickinson said of Luther. ''I never thought I'd see him playing -- for want of a better word -- roots music.''
Luther protested: ''But you knew something would happen. You moved us here.''
His mother shook her head. ''No,'' she said. ''You and your brother said that you were tired of going to school with white people. That's why we moved here.'' (The boys, who are white themselves, used to attend a private school east of Memphis.)
''One of my most important relationships,'' Jim Dickinson said, ''was with an older black man, who taught me everything. But I didn't think that the relationship of an old black man and a young white boy was still possible today. And now Luther is in one, and with a monster of a human being like Othar.'' Mr. Dickinson continued, discussing watching his son play guitar as Mr. Turner corrected him and taught him to value feeling over technique.
In a time when Americans in their 20's are so connected to the rest of the world by cable and the Internet, it is rare to find a young band like the Mississippi All Stars with such a strong sense of the region they come from. No group in any other part of the country could make the music the Mississippi All Stars do because their roots run so deep into the hill country and Delta around them, the music of Fred McDowell and R. L. Burnside, whose sons and grandsons the band often collaborates with.
''We would never move out of here,'' Luther Dickinson said. ''If we became successful, it would be our responsibility to bring that success here. In fact, we want to open up our own juke joint in Memphis. We're going to do it: us and R. L. Burnside's sons. That's our New Year's ambition.''
Luther left his parents' trailer and met his brother in a shack surrounded by barbed wire on the back of their property. This was their studio and, in keeping with their sense of tradition, its walls were lined with asbestos squares of soundproofing, not unlike in the old Sun Studio in Memphis. This was a band that valued authenticity over health.
Luther and Cody Dickinson talked music nonstop. They discussed the musical keys favored by local guitarists, the evolution of lyrics as they traveled from the Delta to hill country, the differences between the live and recorded work of long-dead bluesmen and why Rage Against the Machine is a far better band than Limp Bizkit.
Far from purists, the Mississippi All Stars have worked up their own dense hybrid boogie incorporating the riff-heavy and hard-hitting elements of hill country blues. At a recent concert at the Cave in Chapel Hill, N.C., the band played for three hours, stringing together traditional blues songs into long solo-packed jams. Cody Dickinson played skittering drum solos that verged on free jazz while Luther Dickinson had a huge arsenal of techniques. No two guitar tricks were the same: one minute he was using the alternating thumb style of Mississippi John Hurt and the next he was hammering the fretboard with a limp-wristed hand to produce a chugging rhythm.
The band was reminiscent of the power blues of 60's rock acts like Cream, Steppenwolf and Jimi Hendrix, but had the postmodern electricity of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the exploratory lust of jam bands like Phish and Widespread Panic. The band recently signed to Tone-Cool Records in Boston and will release its first CD in the spring. But already it has put out independent cassettes and a single, toured with Medeski, Martin and Wood, and remixed songs for the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The brothers' side project, an up-tempo jug band called Gutbucket, toured with the Squirrel Nut Zippers.
Though their father initially tried to steer his sons clear of music, their fate was sealed early on. Before he could even speak, Luther would spend hours enthralled as he watched the tape running through his father's reel-to-reel machines. ''I was in my dad's studio one day hanging out, and my mom scooped me up to carry me back to the house. He had a huge old Ampex eight-track machine, and I pointed to that and said, 'Studiolioliolio.' And that was my first word, studio, before mama or anything.''
By the time Luther was in third grade, he says, he had formed a band, the Rebelaires, with his younger brother. They performed two shows playing Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Bo Diddley songs. As teenagers, they grew up influenced by their father's groups (particularly Mud Boy and the Neutrons) and hung out in his studio recording as sidemen with the Replacements, Mojo Nixon and Billy Lee Riley. Soon they had their own bands, like Pigs in Space and D.D.T., before they settled on blues boogie with the North Mississippi All Stars in 1996.
As the sun set, Luther and Cody Dickinson left the studio and piled with friends into their van. It was Sunday night, time to make their weekly pilgrimage to Junior Kimbrough's Juke Joint, a ramshackle club in nearby Holly Springs, perhaps the best-known juke joint in the South.
Tourists often trek there in hopes of finding a venerable bluesman in his element performing for locals. But on this night any tourist would have been in for a shock. The scene was the exact opposite of that at Manhattan blues shows, which tend to involve a bunch of white folks' watching a black man onstage. Here, the black locals were dancing and drinking as a couple of white musicians sat onstage, the North Mississippi All Stars. Luther and Cody revved up songs by R. L. Burnside, joined by Mr. Burnside's son Garry on bass and grandson Cedric on drums. Though some tourists may have been disappointed because they were looking for something more authentic, they were wrong: this was authentic North Mississippi hill country music at the turn of the century, handed down across generations and played less with tradition in mind than keeping the crowd on the dance floor.
Photo: From left, Cody and Luther Dickinson and Chris Chew of North Mississippi All Stars. (Steve Roberts)WebCorp: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/12/23/arts/the-pop-life-the-hills-and-delta-flow-in-their-blood.html